It’s more compelling to read statements that are phrased positively than negatively. In other words, if one experience didn’t work out, don’t say that you decided to do something new because it was not great or a negative experience; say that you chose to move on to a new opportunity in order to develop your skills or explore an area you were excited about or assume greater responsibility. This is important both for the energy and strength of your writing, and also for your tone: if you phrase statements in a negative way, you risk coming across as negative.

It’s much better to be moving towards something attractive than fleeing something ugly. Another way that your writing can create a negative tone is through qualifying words. Writers sometimes use adverbs to pad their writing. I’m not asserting that all adverbs are bad. Deployed carefully, they can help you pinpoint exactly the description you’re looking for. But sometimes, qualifiers can pull your sentence into territory you should probably avoid. Take these sentences as an example:

In the end, I found the experience genuinely enjoyable
I actually enjoyed it

These words can have the effect – not always intended by the writer – of making the experience sound not truly enjoyable or impressive. A more positive phrasing would simply be:

I enjoyed the experience

Don’t comment negatively on your undergraduate program or a company you worked for. If you’re trying to explain a low GPA or other academic challenge, straightforwardly take responsibility for it and do not attribute your struggles to anyone else.

To summarize

  • Phrase sentences positively; focus on what you did, not what you didn’t do
  • Avoid qualifying words that make you sound halfhearted or grudging
  • Make a tone check part of your editing process, and you’ll be on your way to finding the sweet-spot: professional, positive, and confident

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